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Migraine Genes: X Marks the Spot

On June 4, 2012 it was announced that a Migraine related region has been located on the X chromosomes of Migraineurs taking part in a gene mapping study in a remote island called Norfolk Island. This population has a traceable, largely closed gene pool and a greater than average ratio of Migraine patients.

Those who took High School genetics will remember that males carry an X and Y chromosome. Females have two X chromosomes.

It’s been long suspected that there might be a genetic link to be found on the X chromosome of Migraineurs that might account for the unusual ratio of female to male Migraineurs in the general population.

In this case, the X chromosome is thought to possibly contain more than one related Migraine gene, however this news particularly points to a gene that plays a role in the regulation of iron in the brain.

Finding these genetic links to Migraine is especially important because we don’t entirely understand the pathophysiology of Migraine and there have been precious few studies to help us figure it out. Learning more about how and why Migraine attacks occur will help researchers find or design specially targeted treatments for those of us who suffer Migraine. It may also be the smoking gun we need to finally turn Migraine disease into something we can diagnose by testing for something instead of simply excluding everything else we can think of to reach a diagnosis. This is called a diagnosis of exclusion and is currently the only way physicians have to determine if a patient truly suffers from Migraine disease.

Moreover, the more closely we can target a treatment, the fewer side effects patients will likely suffer, and more importantly, the more likely we are to create a treatment that actually works.

Pharmaceutical and device companies do not typically focus their efforts on the pathophysiology of a disease. Their dollars and research uses existing information to help them develop medicines and treatments. In fifty years, only one unique drug targeting Migraine has ever been developed. All the rest of our drugs are either used off-label or are considered “me too” drugs — slightly different copies of another drug.

This DNA research was done by Griffiths University. Led by Professor Lyn Griffiths, researchers looked at a very specific population who seemed made to order for this study. About 80% of the inhabitants of Norfolk Island trace their pedigrees directly to a single, historic event — the mutiny on the Bounty. The greatly increased ratio of Migraineurs to non-Migraineurs coupled with the close gene pool made this an ideal place to research Migraine.

Because some genes for autoimmunity have also been traced to X chromosomes, it was found that men who carry an extra X chromosome have a much greater chance to develop autoimmunity. Those few individuals I’ve talked to in the past who carry this genetic error suffered serious autoimmune disease, but also suffered serious Migraine problems. Hmmm.

In 2011 the National Institutes of Health designated merely .07 of 1% of their funding to headache disorders across the board and was completely left off the Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMR). Not only is headache and Migraine considered to be the hallmark symptoms of traumatic brain injury in veterans, headache and Migraine particularly is considered to be an enormous drain on society costing us more money than epilepsy, asthma and ovarian cancer – combined. With over 100 different headache disorders throughout which this funding must be spread, it doesn’t take a genius to do the math.

With the obviously imbalanced and lack of public research dollars going to Migraine and headache disorders, it is my personal prayer that these findings might help generate interest once again in seeking the clues to the pathophysiology of our disease and the chain reaction of benefits in diagnosis and treatment those findings would result.

Do you want to help spread the word of the importance of this research and a congressional hearing on Capitol Hill? Please share this post on your facebook or other social media platforms.

Here are some tweets you can share on twitter:

  1. Gene discovery highlights the need for research into pathophysiology of #Migraine #NMAM #NMAMTC @TomHarkin
  2. YOU can make a difference for #Migraine and #headache by signing this petition: #NMAM #NMAMTC Plz RT!
  3. #Migraine and #Headache disorders cost society more $ than #epilepsy #asthma #ovariancancer combined #NMAM #NMAMTC
  4. #Migraine #headache funding was only 7/100 of 1% of the @NIHForHealth 2011 budget #NMAM #NMAMTC @AHDA
  5. Dept of Defense Congressionally Directed Med Research Prog CDMR 2012 left out #Migraine & #TBI #NMAM #NMAMTC @Daniel_Inouye
  6. We NEED a congressional hearing on #Migraine and #headache disorders #NMAM #NMAMTC @SenatorHarkin

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Science News. New Hope for Migraine Sufferers: Female Gene Link Identified. Science Daily. June 4, 2012. Available at:


  • Glory
    7 years ago

    This has been my personal theory for four generations now of known migraine issues passed through the material lines, along with known autoimmune disease, specifically rheumatoid arthritis and type 4 multiple sclerosis. I appear to have gotten and passed on the migraine genre, while one of my sisters has had the arthritis gene since early adulthood. Both my sons suffer from early onset migraines. The oldest
    one was lucky and outgrew the migraine without aura, the younger one suffered greatly with daily migraine, but without consistent aura. I have more specific auras to the point of Picasso cubism plus the lovely ones which mimic a
    stroke when they occur. Fortunately, neither son has this manifestation, but it it’s obviously the bad gene going forward. right now, I’m watching my first granddaughter nervously and praying this has escaped her, but in my bloodline, the better your IQ, the worse the prognosis. has anyone done studies linking intellectual capacities, with migraines, since there appears to bea direct correlation in my family

  • mjsymonds
    7 years ago

    “In this case, the X chromosome is thought to possibly contain more than one related Migraine gene, however this news particularly points to a gene that plays a role in the regulation of iron in the brain.”

    Does the study say anything more about the role of iron in the brain and how it’s regulation may affect migraine? Just curious.

  • Ellen Schnakenberg author
    7 years ago

    MJ, I have been hot on the trail of this one and have a serious interest in what this study is looking at. However, much to my dismay, it was not even mentioned at the AHS Scientific Meeting in LA this June. I have asked a few headache specialists (tops in their fields) and so far the question has not been answered. Because this was only a preliminary study, it may be some time before we have those answers. You can rest assured that I am watching out for more news. Perhaps we’ll be able to learn more in Scottsdale in November. Stay tuned!

  • Samantha Goswell
    7 years ago

    No need to convince me about the gene discovery – I’m the third generation to have developed migraines in my family and all of us started to have migraines after a deeply stressful event. Keep up the good work!

  • Janet Arcuri Suprise
    7 years ago

    My family can trace our migraines four generations and I’m sure they go beyond that, but we have no proof. I’m not at all surprised that there is a gene for it!

  • Janet Arcuri Suprise
    7 years ago

    No one was as chronic as me either….we are so special Jane!!!

  • Janet Arcuri Suprise
    7 years ago

    My mother,grandmother and now my daughters, I only hope my grandchildren don’t get them. One of my sisters got them worse tham me up until menopause, the other sister has had just a couple I think over the years. One daughter has them worse than the other too….I dislike too!

  • Jane Litwin Taylor
    7 years ago

    I need a dislike button for this Janet Arcuri Suprise! I am sure my migraine gene comes from my mother’s side. My aunt gets them and I think my mother’s mother had them, though she died before I was born. My mother never had them. Certainly no one was chronic like I am now 🙁

  • Diana Lee
    7 years ago

    This is such exciting research! Not only do I love making progress in understanding migraine, but also having research that supports the genetic connection between women and migraine so we can force people to let go of the idea women have more migraines because we’re the weaker sex.

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    7 years ago

    Never thought of it quite that way – good thought!

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    7 years ago

    I just really love it when there is progress to write about – it gets me all excited 😀

  • Elizabeth Quinn
    7 years ago

    Very interesting.

  • Bray Patrick-Lake
    7 years ago

    Very well written, Ellen!

  • Nancy Harris Bonk
    7 years ago

    Thanks Ellen for this information.

  • sheri2u2
    7 years ago

    Once again I enjoyed another of your great articles. Very informative. What is the autoimmune disease you referred to above? I suffer from Graves and have wondered for so long, and am convinced this is a huge trigger for me.
    Thanks and as always keep the faith.

  • Ellen Schnakenberg author
    7 years ago

    sheri2u2 – Autoimmunity itself seems to be a big trigger for me – as you know it causes systemic inflammation which can be so terribly destructive. I have Graves’ Disease, Lupus and Sjogren’s Syndrome. May be adding another soon, but is still too early to tell 🙁 Hang in there. I did write some articles here re: autoimmune thyroid dysfunction and Migraine – Migraine triggers and comorbidities part 1: And here is part 2:

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